IN Focus: Students rally for school safety, lawmakers called back for special session

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Students, educators and law enforcement gathered at March for Our Lives rallies nationwide to shine a light on school shootings and gun violence in response to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“This should be a constant reminder to our people that this can happen anywhere, anytime and we actually have to do something,” Brandon Warren said, an organizer of the Indianapolis event and founder of the group We LIVE Indy.

The student-led events were assisted by national organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.

“We also want tighter gun laws at the end of the day,” Warren said. “But also we want government officials to get in the community and listen to our cries to where they don’t have to wait until something happens.”

“Finally you have a group, and it took a group of students and they said enough, so I commend them,” said state superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick. “I think the big push is to keep them safe."

School safety is a big reason why Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-IN) recently made the decision to call for a special legislative session to finish work left undone as the 2018 legislative session came to a chaotic end.

Lawmakers were left scrambling in the final hours and failed to pass a number of key bills, including a proposal to address school safety. The governor asked for an immediate $5 million dollars for school security, which wasn't approved.

House Bill 1230 would’ve added money for grants to help schools take measures such as employ a school resource officer, conduct a threat assessments and Purchase equipment to restrict access to the school or expedite the notification of first responders. It would have also required the Department of Education to conduct audits of safety plans, and allowed schools access to low-interest loans for security upgrades.

Monday afternoon, Holcomb said he would be recalling lawmakers to the statehouse in May for a special session. He says he doesn't want to see any new bills come up, and wants to focus on things that were on their way to passage before time ran out.

Specifically, he wants to see the following topics addressed:

Schools and school safety:

  • Increase funding for the Indiana Secured School Fund by $5 million now and in fiscal year 2019.
  • Allow school corporations to obtain funding advances for school security equipment and capital purchase.
  • Provide Muncie Community School corporation with a one-time, $12 million loan from the Common School Fund.

Federal compliance issues:

  • Conform with federal tax reform changes by updating the state's conformity date to Feb. 11, 2018.
  • Comply with IRS rules to protect federal taxpayer information and assure access to federal tax data.

"We will be putting some time back on the clock," said Holcomb. "Many of these items were on their way to passage, but we ran out of time."

The session is estimated to cost about $30,000 per day, but Gov. Holcomb said that number "is dwarfed by the cost of inaction."

He said he didn't want to discuss who was to blame for the chaotic end to the session, and instead focus on what lawmakers could still fix.

When asked if lawmakers should be paid for returning to the statehouse to complete work they didn't finish, Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) said,  “Under State law, each member of the legislature must take their pay. However, they each have the option to donate it back to the state or to a charity of their choice. I will be talking to my caucus about this and other matters that pertain to the special session. The important thing to remember is that we are determined to keep the special session as short and inexpensive as possible—no more than a few days, if that.”

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar issued this statement:

“The Legislature failed to pass the bill (House Bill 1316) with the state’s response to the major federal tax reform changes that occurred in December. That’s a big problem to not have that reconciled – because state taxes are based on federal adjusted gross income – and would put an unnecessary burden on every Hoosier business. “It’s evident Governor Holcomb and lawmakers did not want to see the state fail to update its Internal Revenue Code, but that’s where we ended up.

“If no action is taken, each company – small and large – would have to calculate their federal adjusted gross income twice. Once to conform with federal law and once for state law. For smaller-sized businesses, that could mean another $1,000-$1,500 and for the larger ones, considerably more for internal staff time and/or outside accounting expertise. In total, the compliance cost could easily be north of $100 million.

“On top of that, the required quarterly tax estimates become guesses and ultimately become planning and cash flow issues.

“This bad situation had to be fixed and the Chamber applauds Governor Holcomb for making the tough, but correct decision, to call a special session.

“Since legislators will be back for the day, we encourage them to also take up other key measures – on school safety and various tax matters – that would have passed had the clock not run out. They should use this opportunity to pass these bills that were ready to be voted on in the waning hours of the legislative session.”

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) issued this statement:

“As I have said before, the decision to call a special session is one only the governor can make. Gov. Holcomb has determined, after thoughtful deliberation, that there are items that require action by the legislature. The Senate will support his decision and work diligently to complete the tasks he sets out for us. We will be efficient and focused, and are committed to collaborating with our colleagues in the House and with the governor to act in the best interest of Hoosiers.”

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody issued this statement:

"Governor Eric Holcomb’s special session is the $30,000/day cherry on top of Republicans’ ineptly-managed, visionless legislative session. Republican leadership incompetently steered session into a wall on the last lap. Now they’re asking taxpayers to foot the bill for another shot at passing their do-nothing agenda.

"Republicans couldn’t see fit to competently manage a process that would have increased school safety, while at the same time telling Hoosier children in the DCS system that they weren’t a high enough priority to warrant legislative action during session. It looks out-of-touch and like Republicans are trying to have it both ways. One thing is certain, lawmakers shouldn’t make vacation plans in June. If Holcomb wants to avoid being tagged a hypocrite, he’ll be calling lawmakers back to address the crisis at the Department of Child Services."

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